It should come as no surprise to most that street art has been a male-dominated industry for a long time. In Denver, that inequality has been felt even harder than in coastal cities, where the girls of graffiti were as active as their counterparts. But in recent years and with the rise in popularity of murals, women in Denver’s street art scene have been claiming their spots. And come this spring, there will be a festival that celebrates those women and other non-binary artists called Babe Walls.
Started by Alex Pangburn, Babe Walls seems to be a fitting accomplishment to mark Pangburn’s short but highly efficient time so far in Denver, where she’s dedicated a lot of work toward uplifting and supporting local artists. When she moved here in 2017 with her boyfriend, a tattooer, her first goal was to be involved with CRUSH WALLS (the annual RiNo street art festival). But, she came from an animal technician background, where she worked in a vet’s office and painted animal portraits as a side hustle. After contacting the RiNo Art District, she started managing the RiNo Made store, a retail location to sell work and merch from local artists. The next year, she participated in CRUSH by painting a mural on Larimer Street next to Il Posto and then in 2019 she was brought into the CRUSH organization to basically answer emails. Once she was behind the scenes, she said she put herself in the creative director role — a welcome addition that will continue this year as well.
Aside from these accomplishments, Pangburn also started curating a one-room art gallery inside Ironton Distillery & Crafthouse as well as an electric box that is transformed by rotating street artists by BarberX on Brighton Boulevard. She quickly became a mover-and-shaker in the Denver street art scene, not only for her own skill as a muralist but also because she is a remarkable arts advocate. And while she was working on all these different ventures and making it work as a full-time artist, she kept thinking about an all-women mural festival.
Then someone called her. Their request was about a different project (stay tuned for announcements about that one) but the idea of the all-women mural festival came up and the response was better than Pangburn expected. Christina Eisenstein, a designer and property manager who is also partly responsible for the mural-clad apartment buildings off 13th Avenue painted by Pat Milbery and Nick Napoletano, offered a set of four or five buildings in Westminster as the canvases for Pangburn’s idea. Then, the neighboring development owned by Unison (a low-income housing project) offered additional space and walls. Before Pangburn knew it, she had an entire block radius and roughly 12 walls to work with.
At that point, Pangburn brought in five other local artists, Kaitlin Ziesmer, Robyn Frances (Grow Love), Ashley Joon, R0melle, Gina Ilczyszyn to form the founding group. Her vision was that Babe Walls would not simply be a local annual mural festival like CRUSH, but rather a traveling mural festival that helps cities or neighborhoods who have no bandwidth to throw their own event. With the combined experience and skill of the six founding women, Pangburn hopes that Babe Walls will essentially be an incubator for street artists who don’t fit into the traditional “testosterone-fueled model.”
“I want to create opportunities for artists. And that’s really where my passion lies,” Pangburn noted. “But I also know that [the street art scene] can be intimidating for women and not accessible to all of them. So I wanted to be able to create something for women, where they feel safe, and they can express their art in a way that they won’t be intimidated.”
Babe Walls won’t just be about women or non-binary artists, though. Each year, Pangburn imagines that there will be a different theme or umbrella concept to work under, with this first year focusing on collaboration between women. “I want this to be a celebration of women and not so much exclusion of males. I want to celebrate what we can do whenever women get together and create something,” she explained.
Although the format will change with time, for this first year Pangburn and her co-creators invited 13 artists to participate rather than open a call for proposals. Each of the founding members will collaborate with one or two other artists, mixing styles and techniques in unique and interesting ways that have never been seen before. The other participating artists will be Adrienne Norris, Alicia Cardenas (aka Tribal Murals), Anna Charney, Becca Reitz, Chelsea Lewinski, Danielle Seewalker, Kaitlin Orin, Koko Bayer, Lauren Napolitano, Lindee Zimmer, Marissa Napoletano, Megan Walker, Moe Gram, Myah Mazcara, Olive Moya, Sandi Calistro, Sandra Fettingis and Taylor Herzog.
In order for Babe Walls to actually come to fruition, however, fundraising goals need to be met. Pangburn wants to make sure each participating artist is paid a stipend plus has all materials and equipment costs covered. She estimates that it will cost at least $40,000, and in order to raise that money, there will be a Kickstarter campaign starting March 1, 2020 running for 60 days. Pangburn doesn’t seem too concerned about reaching the goal and explained that “[Babe Walls] is something that’s been needed for so long. The amount of support we’ve received so far makes that evident.”
The idea behind Babe Walls comes at the right time and right place and there’s almost no doubt that even if the Kickstarter fails, someone else will want to sponsor this festival. Perhaps it’s with that confidence or perhaps it’s a practice in manifestation, but Babe Walls already has the dates set on May 28 through 31* this year. And Pangburn is already looking forward to not only this year, but also the years ahead — where this mural festival that uplifts women and underrepresented artists travels the world but has its origins in Denver, a city that helped Pangburn follow her dreams to begin with.
*The dates have been postponed due to COVID-19.